Willard, Mo. After 40 years of on again-off again talking and planning, construction is closer than ever before on an expanded US 160. The upgrades are set to make the commute safer, easier, and quicker for thousands of drivers. Included in that group of commuters are the 62% of percent Willard High School students who travel from the outskirts of Springfield to attend class.
Ethen Palumbo, a student, explained, " It can take getting out of the school parking lot anywhere...upwards of ten minutes."
Social studies teacher Matt Brunner stated, "You have a lot of students on the road, and they do a great job getting to school here, but at the same time you have to be on your toes." He added, "You have oncoming traffic, and then you have care trying to make a left, and then you have stalled traffic as well if there is a lot of congestion," said Brunner.
More traffic has been added to the road in recent years coinciding with the town's population growth. Congestion aside, safety has long been on people's minds. In 2009, three Willard high students were killed in a crash along the way. Concerned students led a grassroots campaign to raise awareness about the need for a better road.
A lack of money had long been the roadblock to improvements until recently. With enough finally funding secured, major planning is underway to widen the road to four lanes between I-44 and Jackson Street. There will also be roundabouts located at Farm Road 94, and at the currently-signaled intersections at Hughes Road, Jackson Street, and Highway AB.
"They have been proving, when reducing crashes, anywhere between 70% and 80% over a signal," said MoDOT Project Manager Don Saiko. "You get a lot of crashes at the signals. They may not be serious ones, but, you will get a lot or rear-ends because people are not expecting to stop."
Saiko explained it will likely be more common in the future to see roundabout on four-lane highways. MoDOT says it leaning toward the goal of replacing stoplights on 4-lane roads with roundabouts or j-turn configurations at intersections where building interchanges is not possible.
To some, adding roundabouts may seem counterproductive when trying to make people's commute easier and quicker. But, MoDOT says when drivers are forced to travel slowly through roundabouts, they're at least still moving- and not having to stop for minutes on end at each signal.
Palumbo said, "I am all for the improvements. I think it is worth it for the safety improvements and for the things we are going to see for Willard in general. It is going to be a lot easier for people who want to come shop here and bring their capital here, and I think it is going to help grow the town. "
Construction on the $18.6-million expansion is set to begin in the summer of 2019 and last through late 2020.
A special public meeting about the improvements is slated for Thursday, May 24, from 5 to 7 pm at the Willard Community Center.